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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 487

Senator COLEMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. I draw his attention to a report submitted to the United Kingdom Department of Energy which said that wind turbines could produce electricity significantly cheaper than coal or nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom. I ask: Considering that Australia is possibly the best situated nation in the world to exploit wind power, what federally funded programs are currently under way or proposed for the near future to support research, development and possible commercial implementation of this promising energy technology?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am uncertain of the report to which Senator Coleman referred, but it is the case that a study conducted by the United Kingdom Central Electricity Generating Board in 1985 concluded that wind turbines could produce electricity at a cost competitive with that obtained from coal fired power plants. However, it must be said that the cost of coal used in those power plants in the United Kingdom is approximately three times the current cost of coal used to generate electricity in New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. Accordingly, those United Kingdom figures, on their face, should be treated as, I think, inappropriate in the Australian context.

Quite a deal of money has been spent on wind energy programs through the national energy research, development and demonstration program. A total of $1.4m has been committed to wind energy since 1978, including $160,000 during the most recent 1986 round. The supported areas include research on wind generator technology, site-specific wind resource measurements, a theoretical study on the integration of wind power into State electricity grids, and performance monitoring of wind systems supplying electricity to small communities and homesteads.

Recently, my Department completed a review of the wind energy sub-program of the NERDD program. The main finding of the review was that wind turbines appear to be economically viable propositions for remote homesteads and communities in areas where average wind speeds exceed four to five metres a second. The most likely prospect for wind in the electricity grid system in Australia is Tasmania. However, it must be said that a recent Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission study, again sponsored under my Department's NERDD program, found that that would be uneconomic at the moment. It is not a matter of abandoning the interest in wind programs, but I think many of the expectations that have been developed about the utility of wind, particularly for grid systems, are exaggerated and cannot be sustained by the results of research in the Australian context at present.